Part Three: The Encyclopedia of Blue
In the afternoon we leave the shadow of the great ships gathered near Cala di Volpe like they’re about to unleash an amphibious assault—and the star maps tour of the wealthy Euros of the Costa Smeralda—and head out for the Maddalena Archipelago National Park. The park consists of seven mostly uninhabited islands, and is destination No. 1 for Sardinian vacationers. Caprera Island, a sliver of granite and green scrub, is our introduction to the Sardinian beach: a crescent of sand, turquoise water, tanned beautiful children screaming in Romance languages. The only way to get here is by boat—either your own, or with one of the services that drop people off in the morning and pick them up at night. We anchor between a 15-foot boat with a couple of German women eating cheese sandwiches and a sleek angled yacht belonging to some Bond supervillain. We swim to shore, where an Italian man has decamped from his boat with a whole baby pig that he’s planning to roast over a fire for dinner tonight.
The Maddalena Archipelago is an encyclopedia of blues—azure to midnight—and a dictionary of beaches. At Spargi there’s a giant rock that looks like a bulldog that you can climb up and dive from; Manto della Madonna (the Madonna’s cloak) has some of the clearest, bluest water in the Mediterranean; Santo Stefano is a no-go zone since it’s inhabited by a military base, in the process of being vacated to make more room for yachts and beachgoers. To be honest, they all kind of blend together, these beaches, each more perfect than the last. That’s Italy for you: never spectacular (like the Grand Canyon or New York City is spectacular), except in its endless jewel-box perfection. And the days we spend here tend to blend together as well. Not in a bad way.
We’d wake at about 9 a.m., emerge onto the deck, drink espresso, and eat ricotta with ground espresso beans and sugar sprinkled over it. About 10 we’d raise sail and I might climb onto the little wooden deck at the back of the boat and lie down and fall asleep in the sun. I’d wake up, dangle a toe in the water, fall asleep again, wake again when we’d anchor in some cove or nook or beach, and dive in. I’d swim for a while, climb back out, lie on the big cushions on the deck of the boat, and be almost totally dry by the time lunch was ready—maybe spaghetti with bottarga (preserved fish roe, a Mediterranean specialty), a green salad, and a bottle or two of cold white wine.
The thing about changeless perfect days is that you kind of get obsessed with their perfection. You think about the perfect number of glasses of wine to drink at lunch, the perfect pillow for your head. It’s the opposite of adventure: you try to keep anything that isn’t perfect from ever happening.
Then one night, the weather changes. It hadn’t seemed possible for it to be anything other than 83 degrees with low humidity and sparse high clouds—perfect, in other words. But on this night you could see something disturbing the sky at the horizon, miles and miles away toward Corsica. Marco quickly makes for a little cove at Capo Figari, and by the time we anchor there the winds are pretty crazy—40 or 50 miles per hour. The cove is protected, with a small sand beach, a little lighthouse, a humble villa where someone lives. A four-wheel-drive vehicle pulls up, and a little Sardinian girl runs out the door to meet her father as the wind whistles through the trees and the light in the sky goes pink and shy. And behind them, up a hill, trails are visible, leading from what I couldn’t say to where I don’t know. But it seems worth finding out: this is a big island, huge really, with 1.6 million people, and mountains, and we have seen nothing. Tomorrow, we’ll make land.